In the Late 1990s, Miss Cleo Had All the Answers to our Troubling Questions

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If you needed to know whether or not your significant other was cheating, Miss Cleo was only a phone call away.

If you watched any amount of late night television, you probably remember these mini informericals. Miss Cleo with her lyrical patois and tarot cards giving us the answers to all our burning questions. Financial worries? Call Miss Cleo. Family problems? Call Miss Cleo.

Leaving your future up to any old psychic was foolhardy. Miss Cleo always had the answers you needed.

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Miss Cleo was so generous with her gifts, her calls were toll free! A bargain at half the price.

Except, it was only the first three minutes that were free…and those minutes were actually spent on hold. Then, voila, callers were connected to Miss Cleo, or the equivalent, for $4.99 per minute. Still a pittance when you consider they were getting a glimpse into the future.

The average call ended up costing $60, and the Federal Trade Commission reported that almost 6 million people looking for answers called in, forking over approximately $1 billion.

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Let’s just repeat that – A BILLION DOLLARS!

Finally, consumers figured out the psychics were fake and the FTC filed a complaint. Access Resource Services and the Psychic Friends Network, the companies behind Miss Cleo and her all-knowing associates, were ordered to give back millions, and Miss Cleo went down with the ship.

Why, she was no psychic, but a Los Angeles writer and actor named Youree Dell Harris! She had produced several plays in Seattle, including one featuring a Jamaican character named Cleo. Amid some scandal surrounding grant money and non-payment for her plays’ casts and crews, she left Washington for Florida.

While in  Florida, she recorded a commercial for a psychic hotline using her Cleo character. Then, she agreed to monitor one of the lines. Despite the millions her line brought in, she claimed she made about $15 per hour–same as the other top producing lines in the network.

Harris claimed she never said she was a medium. She was, instead, a student of voodoo. It was the network that called her “psychic.”

She was only briefly mentioned in the complaint and then her name was dropped completely. But the damage to her reputation was done, and she faded from sight–for a while. Eventually, she was hired to record a voice for a psychic character on Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

And her most loyal fans continued to seek her out for private readings. Her Haitian roots and voodoo studies were real, she claimed. Until her death at the age of 53 from cancer, she fought Psychic Friends Network in court over the intellectual property rights for the Miss Cleo characters, and in 2014 she told Vice that she was the one getting ripped off by the network.

Harris may or may not be the real deal. But to us, she will always be Miss Cleo, waiting for our toll-free call, ready to reveal what lies in the cards.